literature and loss
Novelist often give words to our deep longings, especially in loss and grief, and our hunger for hope. The day I launched this blog, Nils Ringo wrote me about his recent reading of Wendell Berry’s novel Hannah Coulter. In his twenties, Nils volunteered in Honduras for two years at Farm of the Child, and is part of our program in the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship which encourages young adults engaged in service. His mom works with parents who lose newborns in our local hospital, so he has exceptional awareness of loss. He wrote, “I highlighted these sections pertaining to grief” and then sent them my way. Berry writes of the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky, where love and memory, grief and strength abound as the deaths in World War II so greatly impact lives and communities.
Berry writes, via the fictional character Hannah,
I began to know my story then. Like everybody’s, it was going to be the story of living in the absence of the dead. What is the thread that holds it all together? Grief, I thought for a while. And grief is there sure enough, just about all the way through. From the time I was a girl I have never been far from it. But grief is not a force and has no power to hold. You only bear it. Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery.
I don’t think grief is something they get over or get away from. In a little community like this it is around us and in us all the time, and we know it. We know that every night, war or no war, there are people lying awake grieving, and every morning there are people waking up to absences that never will be filled.
And yet the comfort somehow gets passed around: a few words that are never forgotten, a note in the mail, a look, a touch, a pat, a hug, a kind of waiting with, a kind of standing by, to the end. Once in a while we hear it sung out in a hymn, when every throat seems suddenly widened with love and a common longing:
Along our own pilgrimage, many friends gave us comfort by sharing poetry and music that especially proved healing. During the first couple of years after Krista died, my husband Jim often stayed up late just listening to Eric Clapton’s Pilgrim album. He gives voice to grief, heightened by the death of his four-year old son Conor.
What writers, poets, or songwriters have spoken to you on your own journey? I’d love to hear and share these. One day a week, I will be including insights drawn from literature, music, or art.
Thanks, Nils, for sharing your reading!